Understanding The Farmers’ Protests 2024

Farmers, predominantly from the state of Punjab were protesting again in 2024, but what is the reason for the farmers’ protests and agitations over the past few years in India?

Farmers' Protests 2024
Farmers' Protests 2024

India is largely an agrarian economy which has been underperforming for many years. There have been many farmer suicides who are unable to repay loans caused by failed crops. Failed crops could be for many reasons such as monsoons, water crises or unaffordability of the correct products available in the market. As a result, the BJP-led Central Government (Government of India) implemented many changes to improve the financial situation of the farmers.

To support farmers, the Central Government of India (GoI) brought in three laws in 2020 to give farmers additional protection from loans and failed crops and give them flexibility as to how and where they sell their produce.

There was severe backlash from farmers mainly in Punjab, Haryana and western UP. As a result, these laws were repealed in November 2021. A special panel set up by the Supreme Court, later, confirmed that these laws were beneficial to the farmers.

In February of 2024, the farmers started their protest again, just a few months before the general elections. This time farmers from only Punjab were involved in the protest and were prevented by the Haryana government from proceeding towards New Delhi. After a few weeks, the protest died down.

The ever-changing list of demands of the protesters raises doubt on their intentions. A genuine protestor will not keep adding unreasonable demands during negotiations. It seems that the protest is politically motivated and will disappear after the general elections.

For now, in March 2024, the protests have died down but the issue of agrarian stress has not been resolved. It seems that something similar to the three laws will have to be implemented in the future to improve farmer’s income without destroying India’s economy.


India’s agriculture sector has been depressed for decades now, for several reasons but mainly due to past policies and regulations that defy economic logic.

The BJP-led GoI set an ambitious goal of doubling farmer income by 2022 in the 2016-17 annual Budget. The government had implemented many changes to specifically support the farmers, for example:


  • Increasing MSP (Minimum Support Price)
  • Including additional crops in MSP
  • Providing INR 6000 per year to the farmers
  • Providing soil cards to the farmers
  • Urea as micro-fertilizer with neem to prevent black market
  • Farm surveys and registry with drones
  • Insurance against crop failure

The government knew that no amount of Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT), MSP hikes or crop loan waivers could end the looming agrarian crisis and tried to take a step in the right direction with the three Farm Bills in 2020.

Unfortunately, these laws were repealed in 2021 due to protests in 2020 – 2021.

A panel was appointed by the Supreme Court to study the proposed laws and submitted a report that was against the repeal of the laws. The report said it would benefit farmers, and that a silent majority of farmers were in support of the reform.

What are the three farm laws?

The three farm laws introduced by the Union government in 2020 are briefly explained in the sections below with the rationale for doing so.

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020
This act aimed to create an ecosystem where the farmers and traders could enjoy the freedom of choice relating to the sale and purchase of farmers’ produce which facilitates remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels to promote efficient, transparent and barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade and commerce of farmers’ produce outside physical premises of markets or deemed markets notified under various state agricultural produce market legislations.

The rationale behind this law was to end the monopoly of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) system as the sole market for farmers to sell their produce by allowing trade outside these Mandis (farmers’ markets) for a better price discovery, minimizing middlemen commissions and more importantly, filling the gaps in the APMC infrastructure.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020
This legislation intended to provide a legal framework for farmers to enter into pre-arranged contracts with buyers including mention of pricing. It aimed to transfer the risk of market unpredictability from the farmer to the sponsor and also enable the farmer to access modern technology and better inputs. It promised protection and empowerment of farmers with respect to sale agreements.

The rationale behind this law was to create a legal framework allowing farmers to enter into direct contracts with a buyer to sell the produce at a predetermined price like in a futures contract. Such an arrangement would reduce price risk and minimize post-harvest loss as the farmer would know the quantity demanded.

The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
By amending the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, this law aimed to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onions, and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. The amendment sought to attract private investment/farmers’ investment in the agricultural sector and it would remove fears of private investors of excessive regulatory interference in their business operations. The freedom to produce, hold, move, distribute and supply was expected to lead to harnessing economies of scale and attract private sector/foreign direct investment into the agriculture sector. It was intended to help drive up investment in cold storage and modernization of the food supply chain.

The rationale for this law was that the earlier Essential Commodities Act, 1955, discouraged private investment into warehousing and cold storage units as it criminalised storage of the notified commodities above a limit. This law was introduced against the backdrop of a food scarcity situation in the 1950s to curb hoarding, price gouging and black-marketing essential goods that were once scarce, which included edible oil, pulses, cereals, oilseeds, seeds of fruits and vegetables, fertilisers and petroleum products. However, it continued to date despite the fact that we are net exporters of the aforementioned crops. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, sought to end this draconian law, which would have opened up a crucial influx of private investment into agricultural warehousing and cold storage infrastructure.

India produces about 311 million metric tonnes of grains every year but has only enough infrastructure to store about 145 million metric tonnes which is a shortfall of 47 per cent. As a consequence, food grains account for 22 per cent of the total food wastage in India. Besides, the lack of proper storage has led to price volatility and shortages even in surplus crops. Farmers are often compelled to sell their produce at dirt-cheap rates as they do not have the required infrastructure to store and sell later.

Farmers’ Protests in 2020-21

The implementation of these laws led to widespread protests across India, especially in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, with farmers and supporters fearing that these laws would weaken the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system, leaving farmers at the mercy of corporations, and undermine traditional agricultural markets. Protests did have incidences of violence and after a year-long standoff and negotiations, the Indian government repealed these laws in November 2021, through legislation passed in the Indian Parliament.

Violence by the Protesters

There were instances of violence and confrontation, particularly on January 26, 2021, during India’s Republic Day. A faction of the protest march deviated from the agreed-upon routes, leading to clashes with the police. The incidents included the storming of the historic Red Fort in Delhi, where some protestors clashed with police, hoisted religious and farmers’ union flags, and caused damage to the property. This day saw considerable violence, where police were forced to use tear gas and batons with injuries on both sides. The violence on Republic Day was widely condemned, and it led to increased security measures and scrutiny of the protests.

Apart from this major incident, there were other instances of violence and tensions between protestors and authorities were high. In the aftermath of the violence, there were also reports of internet shutdowns, increased police presence, and barricading at protest sites, particularly at the borders of Delhi, where farmers had set up camps.

Prior to that, a violent incident occurred on 3 October 2021 in Lakhimpur Kheri Uttar Pradesh, India. The violence involved a vehicle-ramming attack, a drive-by shooting and a mob lynching during a farmers’ protest. Eight people, including four farmers and a journalist, were killed and ten others were injured in the violence.

Overall, there were many violent incidents during the farmers’ protests from 2020 to 2021 but the incidents of violence, especially on January 26, 2021, marked a significant and unfortunate departure from the otherwise non-violent nature of the demonstrations.

A lot of NRIs have farmland in Punjab that is maintained by the labourers mainly from other states. With these laws, due to a lack of understanding, they thought that they would lose out. Due to these reasons, a lot of NRI supported protests financially and through other means.

Negotiations in 2020-2021

These protests were one of the most significant demonstrations in India in recent years, with farmers, especially from Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, demanding the repeal of these laws. They feared that the new legislation would dismantle the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system, leaving them at the mercy of large corporations.

The government, on the other hand, argued that the laws would provide farmers with more avenues to sell their produce and lead to better pricing. Despite these assurances, the protests garnered massive support, leading to a stalemate that necessitated multiple rounds of talks. Here is a summary of the negotiation rounds that took place:

Initial Rounds (October 2020 – January 2021)
The first few rounds were preliminary discussions where the government tried to explain the benefits of the new laws and offered to make minor amendments. The farmers, however, remained steadfast in their demand for a complete repeal.
December 2020: Several rounds of talks took place in this month, with the government offering written assurances on the MSP and amendments to the laws. The farmers, however, rejected these offers, leading to a deadlock.

Escalation and Supreme Court Intervention (January 2021)
January 2021: The talks seemed to have hit a brick wall, with the government offering to suspend the laws for 18 months and set up a joint committee to discuss the issues further. The farmers rejected this proposal too, demanding a complete rollback.
January 2021: The Supreme Court intervened in January 2021, staying the implementation of the farm laws and setting up an expert committee to negotiate between the two parties. However, the protesting farmers expressed little faith in the committee, insisting on direct talks with the government.

Later Rounds and Resolution Efforts
February to April 2021: There were attempts to re-engage, but the talks did not progress much. The government maintained its stance on not repealing the laws but remained open to discussions. The farmers continued their protests, organizing rallies and a blockade of Delhi’s borders.
Late 2021: In a significant development, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced the repeal of the three controversial farm laws in November 2021. This announcement was a major victory for the protesting farmers, leading to the end of the year-long protests. The formal process of repealing the laws was completed in the Parliament of India in December 2021.

End of Protests in 2021

Following the repeal of the laws in 2021, there were discussions regarding the legal guarantee of MSP and other issues raised by the farmers. These talks aimed to address the underlying concerns of the agricultural sector in India and prevent future disputes.

It’s important to note that the situation was very dynamic, with negotiations being part of a broader dialogue between the government and the farming community. The resolution in late 2021 marked the end of this particular series of protests but not the end of the discussions about agricultural reforms in India.

Farmers’ Protests in February 2024

Farmer’s protest started again in February 2024 when the protesters had planned to proceed from Punjab to New Delhi. This came just over two years after they had ended their 16-month-long protest in the national capital.

New Demands
In February 2024, Farmers’ Protest 2.0 had a new set of demands. Hundreds of farmers, from Punjab, once again took to the streets to press the Indian government to address their long-standing demands. The demands are listed below and further analysis is later on in the article.

The first set of demands set forth by the farmers’ union leaders were as follows;

  • A law guaranteeing a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce
  • Farm loan waiver
  • Implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations
  • Pension for farmers and farm labourers
  • No hike in electricity tariff
  • Withdrawal of police cases and ‘Justice’ for the victims of the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence
  • Reinstatement of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013
  • Compensation to the families of the farmers who died during the previous agitation in 2020-21

As the negotiations continued, these demands grew into a bigger list with the following additional demands;

  • Crop insurance that govt need to Pay
  • India will not be part of the WTO (World Trade Organization)
  • Salary and pensions to farmers in line with Government employees
  • All loans to be written off
  • No metre for electricity
  • Free water for all farmers
  • No tax for farmers
  • All farmers over the age of 60, are to be paid INR 10,000 every month to each member of the family as a pension
  • The Government needs to buy whatever the farmer grows irrespective of whether the government needs it or not
  • The government should be held responsible for the deaths that happened during protests in 2020-2021 and
  • Farmers should be compensated by the government financially and
  • Give martyr’s status to those who died
  • Provide financial compensation to the kin and the family

These demands were not only absurd but raised questions by many people working in the private sector (for example, Rickshaw wala, doctors, shopkeepers, YouTubers) about their rights to insurance, pensions, free resources etc.

Nature of Protests in February 2024

The protest was restricted to the Punjab and Haryana borders where the Haryana police had constructed concrete barriers. The farmers brought barricade busters, like JCBs, modified tractors and dumpers to the border.

Kites were used to hinder the police drones which were monitoring the situation.

Some straw heaps with red chillies added were burnt to overpower the police and cross the border.

Old people were told to sit at the border, in return for free facilities.

Protesters were well prepared to deal with the government response. They had masks for the tear gas and rations for 6 months so that they could stay for a long time. They had modified tractors to break the barriers.

Some videos have gone viral where negotiations are being done for Rs 30-40,000 for sitting in the protests.

Protesters also seem to be threatening to open the Pakistan border if they are not allowed in Delhi. These types of threats can’t be done without support from the Punjab government which didn’t stop these protesters from taking farm traffic to highways. There is also a backup plan to not take any crops to the markets to create food scarcity for months.

Government response

The government said that it was ready for a dialogue with the agitating farmers to solve the issue amicably. The government had formed a panel of three Union ministers – Piyush Goyal, Arjun Munda and Nityanand Rai to hold meetings with the protesting farmer leaders.

The government’s stand was that before the loan amount is waived off, the loan amount has to be assessed with all the States and only after careful assessment a decision could be taken.

More than 5 Rounds of talks had happened but it seemed that the so-called farmers had a moving goalpost with only one agenda and that was to create anarchy before general elections.

Deeper analysis

Protesters’ demands
The protesters had an initial list of demands and then as mentioned earlier they added further demands to the list. Given the nature of the demands, it was obvious that the protesters were not interested in finding any solution but were looking to extend the protests for at least until the general elections.

The following sections briefly describe their demands and why these demands were unrealistic.
A law guaranteeing a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce
Along with the new law, the protesters also wanted to purchase whatever the farmer grows irrespective of whether the government requires it or not.

The country cannot afford to spend a significant amount of revenue on MSP every year. This will distort the market, reduce efficiencies and increase prices. This will also encourage other professions to ask for similar guarantees.

Farm loan waiver / All loans to be written off
Waving loans again will be a burden on the treasury and it encourages financial mismanagement by the farmers. Many farmers already expect that the farm loans will be written off close to elections. For a strong economy such freebies and financial management should not be allowed.

Implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations
This is related to how the MSP is calculated and the Commission’s recommendation was 1.5 times the cost. When in power Congress had declined to implement Swaminathan Commission recommendations as these were rightly considered unaffordable. There is no other profession in the world where such a blanket safety net is provided.

Salary and pensions for farmers are in line with Government employees
The Central government is paying INR 6000 per year to all the farmers. The demand is now to give salaries to all the farmers and labourers. Additional demand is that all farmers over the age of 60, should be paid INR 10,000 every month to each member of the family as a pension.

After an audit, about five lakh (500,000) farmers in Punjab were found to be fraudulently claiming this annual support of INR 6000.

Free water & electricity
Most of the farmers have their own tubewells. While some smaller farmers may not have their own tubewells. The groundwater level in Punjab has dropped to dangerous levels and it requires strong actions from the State government to help increase the groundwater level.

Free electricity will make the situation with groundwater even worse. The remedy for this is to change the crops which do not require large amounts of water.

Punjab is also known for using too many pesticides and fertilisers thus damaging the soil all over the state. Stubble burning every year causes pollution in large areas of North India. A train from Bhatinda to Rajasthan state is called a cancer train as it takes several cancer patients to that State every day. It is believed that the rise in cancer is due to the use of pesticides and pollution.

The government has tried to encourage the farmers to grow crops suitable for the local environment, which are in demand and use fewer resources.

No tax for farmers
Farmers do not pay any income tax. It seems that the protesters do not want to pay other taxes either. Many farmers or arhtiyas (contract farmers) are millionaires as can be seen by the expensive SUVs in the protest but do not pay any tax.

Violence in 2021 at Lakhimpur Kheri
There were several violent incidents during the long protests. The protestors are demanding the withdrawal of police cases against those protestors involved in the violence and ‘justice’ for the victims of the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence.

The protestors had created a list of over 600 deaths during protests in 2020-2021 and are blaming the government for the deaths that occurred during the protests. The protesters were demanding that those who died should be compensated by the government financially and given martyr status.

These 600+ deaths were not directly due to GoI or police actions so it is absurd to claim compensation. Also, martyrs are those who are killed because of their religious beliefs, whereas these deaths were for natural causes or accidents.

Reinstatement of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013
Farmers are demanding compensation for the land taken by the government for different projects. They are also asking for 10% of developed land for their families.

Crop insurance that the GoI needs to pay
The government has introduced a crop insurance scheme with a very low premium. The protesters want the government to pay the premium of these insurance schemes. If the government pays MSP and insurance premiums along with free water and electricity then the farmers will not be motivated to innovate and bring in new ideas. This will reduce productivity and increase costs for all.

India will not be part of the WTO ( World Trade Organization)
Most of the protesters’ demands go against the rules of the WTO. As a result, the protestors started demanding that India should leave the WTO. This will have a big impact on the trade between India with the rest of the world so is not a reasonable demand by the protestors.

Legal Guarantee of MSP

This time, their primary demand centres around securing a legal guarantee for MSP based on the Swaminathan Commission formula. The MSP is the minimum price paid by the government when procuring crops from farmers, shielding them from price fluctuations. It is determined by the state-run Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) for various commodities.

While the Food Corporation of India (FCI) mainly buys paddy and wheat at these prices, the legal MSP is particularly raised as crucial for farmers in Punjab and Haryana. These states have historically been the biggest beneficiaries of MSP-based procurement, especially for wheat and paddy. In the 2022-23 rabi marketing season, Punjab received over Rs 19,300 crore through MSP for wheat, and in the 2021-22 Kharif marketing season, they received Rs 36,708 crore for paddy.

But now the protestors wanted to include other crops in MSP.

Geographical support

The Punjab farmers are mainly involved in the farmers’ protests in 2024. The protesters have not gained support from the neighbouring states such as Haryana, and Himachal or anywhere else in India such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh or the Southern States.

Farmers from the western UP had supported the farmers in the previous agitation but are not involved in the protests this time around. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana gain the most from the MSP still they want this to be guaranteed by law for all the crops they grow.

An economic survey has suggested that 3/4th of the land is about to become desert land due to the exploitation of water because of free electricity and the overuse of pumps.

Punjab demography

As very few industries are left in Punjab, the middle-class educated Punjabis do not see any future in Punjab. There are several coaching centres everywhere to help youngsters move abroad. The migration of Punjabis to other countries is happening in large numbers.

As people are moving away from Punjab, labourers from other states, like Bihar and UP are coming to Punjab.

It is estimated that 84 per cent of the people class themselves as SC/ST where conversions are happening at a fast pace. Who are these Sikh farmers doing the protests and what is their agenda? “Farmers” is just a name to get the emotional response from the general public.

According to some sources, there may be up to 2.77 million Christians living in Punjab, constituting up to 15% of the state population, but this claim is not verified.

The farming community in Punjab is mainly engaged in contract farming by hiring labour from other states in India. Contract farmers are called ‘arhtiyas’ in Punjabi. As a result, the population of labourers from other states is also increasing in Punjab.

Canada connection

India used to import many pulses from Canada. Many farmers migrated mainly from Punjab to Canada and used to benefit from this. When the BJP govt reduced these imports massively. This encouraged the locals to grow these pulses, Punjabi farmers in Canada were affected and didn’t like it.

Canadian funding for the protest is linked to extremist or separatist elements that seek to destabilise India. During negotiations, the agreements made were rejected at 1:30 am after the protesters discussed it with all the farmers within 2 hours. It is likely that the discussions were held only with the farmers’ organisations in Punjab assuming that they represent the whole Indian farmer community. This also makes it clear that it isn’t all Indian farmers protesting but only Punjab farmers.

Political dishonesty

Agriculture is a State subject which raises a number of questions about what the State governments are doing to help the farmers in their respective states.

Neighbouring states are taking initiatives to support the farmers, for example, Haryana is paying higher MSP than Punjab. UP has increased the payment for sugarcane in their state. These are some of the reasons that the farmers from Haryana or UP are not supporting these protesters.

Why can’t AAP Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann start Punjab State-level schemes to support these farmers? He is in full support of these farmers. The Punjab government made it easier for the protesters to reach Haryana borders while violating motor traffic rules etc.

This also raises several questions on the political parties of the opposition. For example, Congress had rightly rejected implementing the Swaminathan Commission report when in power but is now supporting this demand, AAP is in power in Punjab but has not provided MSP benefits at par with the Haryana government.

Timings and Democracy

Protester’s demands are put in such a manner that these cannot be fulfilled because the government can’t change these laws before the elections as there is no parliament session left to change the law.

If these demands are so important, these could be dealt with by the Punjab govt and they can give these benefits to the farmers as there is an AAP govt that supports these protests.

Some videos also went viral stating and clarifying their agenda of just creating anarchy just before elections and trying to defame the Narendra Modi-led NDA government in the international media.

There are political parties with vested interests. There is an AAP government in Punjab and Delhi. Punjab police did not stop any protesters from taking farm vehicles on the highways which is not allowed by the road traffic rules.

Some analysts have suggested that the timing of the protest is not coincidental and is linked to the upcoming general elections in India. They argue that the protest is a political strategy to mobilize the rural vote against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies. The protest is being used to create a narrative of victimhood and resistance among the farmers and make them look like a vulnerable and marginalized group by the international media.


The farmers’ protests have no real basis for the protests but just to create anarchy before the elections.

In conclusion, the farmers’ protests of 2024 have been a result of frustration in the left with no hope of winning the elections. Although it is portrayed as the discontent and frustration of the agricultural sector in different parts of the world even though it is only focused in Punjab. The main reason for protests by the media is portrayed as the changes in subsidy schemes, environmental regulations, and animal health policies that the farmers perceive as unfair, impractical, and threatening to their livelihoods. However, these farmers have all the time to sit on the border with expensive vehicles, barricade busters, SUVs, JCBs, modified tractors, dumpers and tractors that are modified to break the road blockers.

The protests have been described as largely peaceful, but videos tell us a different story where violence and the level of preparation done by the farmers is extraordinary and they have burnt straw with chilli powder in it to cause serious problems in breathing. They have caused disruption and inconvenience to the public and the authorities.

The Union Government has responded well and kept the protesters engaged with full consultation and compromise but the farmers have not been satisfied with the outcomes so far.

The protests are likely to continue until elections are over as the ever-changing list of their demands shows that these so-called farmers will not be satisfied with any level of agreement by the government.